Things to see and do - Madrid
Madrid, a walk in the museum district... :
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Madrid, a walk in the museum district...
Madrid, a walk in the museum district...Pedestrian, 5 km, 2 days
A stroll in Madrid's most majestic area, with its leafy avenues lined with stately buildings, luxurious hotels and famous museums. Tourists and locals alike love to wander these streets between visits to the Prado Museum and walks through the beautiful Buen Retiro park.Customise this route and add it to My travel book
Seated in a carriage, the Goddess of the Earth is drawn by two lions (note that one of them is a lioness!). This square, dear to the hearts of Madrid's citizens, is the meeting point of the Calle de Alcalá, the Gran Vía and the Paseos del Prado and de Recoletos. All around are impressive buildings: the Bank of Spain, as austere as it should be, and the Buenavista and Linares Palaces. Then there is the Palace of Communications, built in a grandiose and undefined style.
Running from the Cybele Fountain to the Neptune Fountain, this avenue was designed for King Charles III, the «enlightened» monarch who remodelled Madrid. It used to be considered good form to be seen at the evening 'parade': ladies of fashion in carriages, glances concealed by fans, and swaggering cavaliers met each other there. Apart from the carriages and horses, little has changed in this area, with two temples to luxury: the Ritz and Palace Hotels on either side of the Neptune Fountain.
This place is made for landlubbers, old seadogs and budding admirals! You can daydream while looking at superb models of ships, books and navigational instruments. As explorers at heart, you cannot fail to be moved by the precious chart made by Juan de la Cosa around 1500: only eight years after Columbus discovered the New World, this was the first time that America had been mentioned on a map.
The neo-classical Palace of Villahermosa, which was specially converted by the architect Rafel Moneo, houses this fabulous collection, gifted to Spain, the native land of his wife Carmen Cervera, by Hans Thyssen-Bornemisza. It is probably the world's most extraordinary private collection of paintings, brought together by the baron's family from the 1920s onwards. The 800 pictures form a remarkable journey through Western art, from the 13C to the present day, which art lovers should not miss on any account! The next extension of the museum, thanks to the acquisition of two adjoining buildings, should not change the deliberately chronological principle of presentation of the works on display. So a stroll takes you from Duccio di Buoninsegna, the Italian primitive, to Roy Lichtenstein, taking in on the way Van Eyck, Memling, Dürer, Caravaggio, Ribera, El Greco, Zurbaran, Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Constable, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Rothko and Pollock to name but a few of the prestigious highlights awaiting you! A museum to savour at length.
It is undoubtedly the most important Fine Arts Museum in the world, created in this neo-classical building designed by Juan de Villanueva to house the Academy of Sciences and became a museum at the instigation of Ferdinand VII. Faced with the incredible richness of the collections, choices have to be made because of the abundance of masterpieces. We shall therefore select the 'finds' at random and take a stroll through the rooms reserved for the Spanish school. There you will find Bermejo, Juan de Juanes, Sanchez Coello, Ribalta with his light and shade borrowed from Caravaggio and José de Ribera. Then there is the still and mystical Francisco de Zurbaran who comes alive when, abandoning monks, he tackles the Twelve Labours of Hercules. The popular scenes pictured by Murillo are a long way from his sweet and insipid Virgins churned out one after the other. See also the enigmatic El Greco; the best of Vélasquez (The Spears, a masterpiece of composition, but also the extraordinary Méninas (Ladies-in Waiting) with its subtle reversal of the viewpoint which makes you the object of curiosity of the people in the picture, who are themselves only seen through a mirror) and Goya with his famous Majas, clothed and naked, and his portrait of the Royal Family, of which all one can say is that it is not fawning, or the dramatic episode of the executions of 3 May 1808 which will make you shudder. The Triumph of Death , by Brueghel the Elder and the fabulous Surrealist Garden of Delights, by Jérôme Bosch (and well ahead of its time), illustrate Flemish painting, while Italy is represented by Fra Angelico, Mantegna, Botticelli, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, would you believe!
Created in 1781 by the architect Juan de Villanueva and the botanist Gomez Ortega, this garden has recently been renovated. Coolness and shade await you there, under exotic species of foliage: a luxury best appreciated in summer!
A suitable place had to be found to display Picasso's emblematic painting, Guernica, a symbol of the absurdity and cruelty of the Civil War. It was painted for the Paris World Fair (1937) then taken to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, where it was to await the return of democracy in Spain, in accordance with Picasso's wishes. The picture arrived in Madrid in 1981 and was exhibited in the Casón del Buen Retiro before finding a permanent home in this museum in 1992. The museum is housed in a former hospital, whose architecture is particularly grandiose and austere. The façade is embellished with outdoor glass lifts, while the vaulted halls lend themselves wonderfully to the modern art that now adorns their walls. Guernica, which is entirely black, white and grey, has considerable symbolic weight. As well as being Picasso's protest against the horrors of war, it is undeniably a pictorial masterpiece, bringing together all the artistic movements of the time. In addition, the Centre houses a number of works by Spanish artists who made their mark in the 20C, and demonstrate the ongoing vitality of Spanish art: Juan Gris, one of the most important Cubists, Joan Miró, represented by paintings and sculptures which form a real retrospective of his work, Julio González, Salvador Dalí, the Catalan movement Dau al Set, Abstraction (Pablo Palazuelo), the members of the Equipo Crónica, El Paso group (Saura, Canogar and others), Antoni Tàpies and Eduardo Chillida.
The 130 ha Retiro Park is today a green space where you can breathe in the heart of the capital, scattered with thick clumps of trees, like La Chopera in the south. You can row on the (artificial) lake under the indifferent gaze of King Alfonso XI, or join the locals running along the pathways. The more romantic may prefer to court their sweetheart beside the grotto and the water, around the graceful Crystal Palace, a setting for modern art exhibitions.
This enormous gate, at the corner of the Retiro Park and blocking Alcalá Street, was built between 1769 and 1778 by Sabatini, one of Madrid's masters of neo-classicism, to commemorate the entry into Madrid of Charles III, the most outstanding of the Bourbons. It is even more majestic at night when lit by spotlights.